Pinterest Success in 2012

I have been seeing bloggers refer to “pinning” images on Pinterest for a year or more and just recently I finally got an account started. Pinterest required linking to my FB profile which was a dealbreaker, but I deleted the app and unlinked it afterwards. I was curious as to why Pinterest was different than other mood board sites (polyvore) I had seen that didn’t really impress me. At the same time I have been reading more about how Pinterest drives more traffic to retailer sites than Google Images, how women are the primary audience and why Pinterest traffic has taken off like a space rocket.

My take on the site as a web analyst, a woman and a user of the site may be different than the media’s perceptions. I concentrate on the behaviors and uses of the site and have listed my opinons on their growth/success here:

Some reasons I think Pinterest has been a growing site:

1. Images do say more than a 1000 words – They can make you feel hopeful, creative, inspired and motivated. Great images move people. That is why good photography is both art and marketing at the same time. (think Flickr/Instagram) What happens when you want to see that powerful/inspiring image again? Do you bookmark it? With your other 1,000 bookmarks? Blogging it has been better, but not everyone wants to blog and some people frown on hotlinking in your posts although that is what Pinterest uses. Flickr has been great with it’s searchable favorites image list, but not everyone likes Flickr like I do. Some people just want to link other people’s photos and not upload their own. Facebook is ok if you want to blast your friends with all the images you save/share about your home remodel project and make everything archived by the borg, but I really think image saving/sharing is out of context on your personal branding page. Capturing and sharing this image information has had a tricky history and Pinterest solved a problem we didn’t know we had.

2. People are busy and ideas are fleeting – Maybe this is the ADHD generation? I am a GenXer. I have way too much to do, a reasonable income and a very short attention span. I have a hard time keeping track of things that aren’t completely essential and ideas are on that list. In a personal example: With my process of moving around a lot in the last few years, my confidence in the house decorating department was a bit threatened from being a bit out of practice. I have made up for it with a huge file of images saved on my computer from design blogs. It was an old school solution to needing a place to look for ideas from images I already filtered and liked. Did it create solutions for my house? Yep, several rooms in the new house have been redone based on color pallettes from those photos. But in a day I may only see 1-3 photos I like from 50+ interior design blogs. In a year that is a lot to comb through and it isn’t share-able offline nor is it accessible from anywhere. So, Pinterest has recently proved more accessible and more shareable for keeping these images. Plus it is free for now. I could see them evolving into suggesting ad based photos by retailers based on your tags/likes/pins in the future.

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3. Trends/Decisions are easier to analyze when you have all the information from multiple sources in one place. I find it difficult to make buying decisions in this day and age because in most every category there are too many brands, products, colors, choices, prices and options to keep straight. (information overload) Making a pinning board for new shoes you are considering buying takes a lot less time than going to the 5 stores in your area and trying to decide that way or ordering online from Zappos and having to return them all. Plus you can save that pic of that shoe you love but don’t need right now for later. Side by side lists and comparisons make shopping a little easier, but in most cases these wishlists really work on selling to you and others. Someone recommends something, you loooove it, click-click-bought. That isn’t really a bad consumer strategy. I have found that if I ever pass on an item and want to look it up to buy later, it is impossible/gone  with how short the merch time is in stores (online and off) and how styles change so vastly that it may never be seen again. (yet the things you’re never very thrilled with seem to pop up again and again in many different stores). Items/Pictures that are popular on Pinterest may have more staying/selling power due to the large audience or they may be more trendy when people move on to the next micro trend. I am not sure yet because there is a lot of churn in products these days, some people consuming constantly, others stopping completely.

4. Like TED some ideas are worth sharing. I enjoy seeing what my friends have discovered and pinned. It tells me what they are into, what is new, what really good ideas/recipes they want to share and hopefully some of those ideas are good for me too. I have found some interesting clever solutions for household annoyances this way. True, this may just mirror the offline world where women would share tips on household stuff while chatting in the yard, but it makes sense for other subject matter/industries too as long as there aren’t proprietary info in the photos and there is a collective community sharing information. This could be a marketing strategy if you have real solutions your product offers and the story can be told in an image that looks real.

5. The biggest reason? Discovery is a process that a lot of us get a big burst of happy from. It doesn’t matter if it is online discovering photos, reading a magzine, watching a TV show, taking a vacation or creating something like artwork or crafts. Many of us have jobs that are pretty specialized and we do a short list of things for the company and don’t have a lot of variety or creativity in our daily lives. I have found that I need some form of creativity (writing, photography, art, dance, design) in order to be happy and I have a feeling that this may be the case for others too. Even the simulation of creativity by discovering and learning from photos of how to keep wrapping paper on the roll with a sliced toilet paper core haves us that Aha moment and makes us feel happier, smarter & more connected. All this in an easy to use format and without requiring much reading for the ADHD generations.

6. Another reason it may be growing is that Pinterest is very accessible on iPads which can go anywhere in the home when you have time to look at it. (the app is just fair, I prefer the full site in the browser on an iPad) It is a guilty pleasure just like celeb blogs on some level. I think mobile/tablet use is making the site more addictive although probably not the main reason for it’s success. Now that retailers (Etsy) has added pin it button to their listings pages I hope more retailers do this to help promote their products. One thing is clear though, it will take 500+ views and likes before you find someone ready to buy, and you will probably have to have some familiarity/trust built with them first. Most people do a lot of window shopping/dreaming on the site, a lot more than buying. But that is part of marketing, getting the word out in the first place, or as some say, creating the need. A large enough audience may just be able to significantly impact sales too.

7. The more I think about it there are more reasons that this site works well and attracts people so quickly. An element of new sites that often works well is keeping the interface simple and the navigation self explanitory. (especially with people who don’t have a lot of time or patience) In this case the content/images take center stage and the navigation/functionality is uber simple and almost in the background. If/when they would like to expand on it they can build more complexity over time and teach the audience along the path to more features just as/or before they get bored with the current ones. Facebook has done this pretty well and has been able to innovate its way ahead of many other sites.

Any other reasons you think Pinterest is growing so quickly?

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Top 5 Web Analytics Metrics

chicago analytics consultant naperville ILI’ve been working with (Google/WebTrends/Omniture) Analytics data for 4 years now and the requests for Analytics data usually come in 2 styles.

1. The super basic: just tell me my site is still running, whatever everyone else looks at.

2. The super detailed auditors: tell me each of 180 customer segment’s data sliced and diced 10 ways and the month to month change, YOY change and a dozen other things the software doesn’t calculate for you. This could take months to implement and most of the time they have lost interest in it by the time you get it working properly.

I get frustrated with both. The super simple manager needs to look at more than just visits from month to month. The uber detailed guy needs to hire a developer to implement all that and not make changes each month to how they want data tracked and processed because all the time is spent on implementation and none on analysis and most of the time nobody even looks at all the 180 segments of reports.

They also need to realize that all the systems take the data and summarize it or cut off tracking at a max number of log files, web pages or analysis processes to maintain the integrity and size of the database tables. Try and do a full audit of every page view and click and you will crash WebTrends and re-processing it can take months. Google Analytics doesn’t even give you options to do more than what they summarize. Omniture really tries, but its a slow slow process.

Instead I am supporting the idea that web analytics data is really about trends and not audits. These numbers will never match your server logs perfectly nor your clicks from campaigns and that is OK. I also have listed here 5 metrics to look at and why they are important for your online site. One caveat is that I do not work for an e-commerce website so that has not been our focus. The focus is on conversion to application for recruitment purposes for companies. 

1. Visits – yes month over month traffic is important. What is more important is to look at the difference in traffic and drill down into what gained or lost traffic in the way of pages/content on the site and what sources changed in their contribution of the total traffic. This is actionable where as just visits aren’t. Also check back with the costs for each of these budget areas and compare the cost per visit provided by each.

2. Referrers – in a nutshell you should know how much traffic is coming from search, direct and your advertising/marketing plans online and offline. Within those groups you can drill down further but the direct category is always problematic because many analytics packages track page pop-up forms as new visits as well as returning to the site after a conversion process. Also remember that a session is usually 30 min, after that its reset as new.

3. Implementation – no this isn’t a metric but it is a focus you should have on a monthly basis to make sure new sites, pages get tracking added, new campaigns get tracked and that you keep researching new technology developments with your analytics package that may change everything. Having a good web developer along that has access to the servers and can make these changes is key if you’re not a developer (and no developers don’t make good analysts, a best case scenario is a dynamic duo where they are paired up and both work on projects together and learn from eachother) and the helpdesk type services available through Google are non-existent so good luck there interpreting the overly simplified online tutorials that don’t match what your clients want or answer your client’s specific needs/questions. WebTrends and Omniture are slightly better with web support but they expect you to pay a lot for it. A good independent consultant may be the fastest most reliable way to go here.

4. What people search for on your site. This can be tricky to implement but if you get this data it can be very telling. if people can’t find something on your site and search for it, you get a window into what they were thinking. this may tell you that the content you have isn’t what they want or that it isn’t as navigable as you thought. New product ideas also come from this data.

5. Where people exit from your site. This is classic application drop off analysis within any online linear process. But guess what? People don’t always think linear-ly. Expect some of this data to drop off in chunks but a small amount to drop off at all points for unknown reasons.  Its more actionable to focus on the large chunks and look at each page and the click maps for them but sometimes only so much optimization is possible here without doing real life usability testing with 5-10 people.

I’m sure there are more things that people can look into with geographic data and time on site but sometimes I think those are less actionable because you have little control over where your ads run because geo-targeting doesn’t always work well (excluding more than it includes) and time on site can be good or bad at short and long times. The content/pages that are popular on your site are also important but this is one of those custom setups that each division will need tracking by their geo-location and they never admit that so much traffic cross pollinated from each other’s campaigns. You have to read into the specific needs of your client to see if these apply and how to evaluate them without over complicating the reports. I really believe you should look at 5 key metrics or less in a report, more than that is not actionable and is distracting from your purpose/process of improvement. 

There is also a difference between researching a question/metric once, and doing it monthly when it never changes. I don’t believe its a good use of time to report on time on site if its been consistent month over month for the last 2 years. Check in once a year and leave the other data to be reported monthly, save the analyst’s energy for the new questions that need answering and trust your site.

What else do you think is applicable? Any feedback?

Google Search Box on the Search Results Page Sucks – Site Search

google search box, web results sucksI noticed this search box on the Google search results page beneath the Amazon.com listing a few weeks ago and thought, cool. Lets see if it gets me past the home page amazon and to the search results page on Amazon.com. It would take me one step closer to what I am looking for on this site if it worked.

But instead it just brought me a list of pages on Amazon while still being in Google’s search results. YUCK! That sucks. I don’t want to stay on Google longer, I want to get to the book/dvd/whatever I am looking for and it’s on Amazon. This added another step in my process and I hate when sites do that for profit. It’s like a big interstitial ad that interrupts your log-in process on Monster or those stupid interstitial on Forbes articles. It is bad usability and bad user experience and people should complain about it so they remove this feature. (and of course don’t use the feature because if they see usage numbers in their stats they will think people like it and keep it)

It doesn’t surprise me that Google would want to keep you on their site longer so they can serve adwords against the results and possibly distract you away from what you originally intended to do or find but what I was surprised about  was that they thought they were better about finding products/pages on amazon than amazon itself. And that is a self centered conceited view to think you know Amazon’s business better than they do and to use that as justification to poach their traffic and users. Ouch.

I think Google also may be looking at this new search box in the search results as a way to get more into vertical search using their main search box as a starting point for picking your vertical and then the second search box to search within the site or specific vertical you choose. Google probably thinks they are prime for this kind of use because they already index everything and just need to figure out a hierarchical interface to display it all and make the difference in level of detail in the results visual. Then they can conquer the world…muhahaha…The only problem with that idea is that I don’t know an real live humans that like or look for vertical search. The sites that create content around a vertical are brands and have a real product that cost money to produce so they aren’t just web companies that crawl, slurp, scrape and steal other people’s original content and display it with advertising along site like Google.

So, overall I give this search box in the search results change a thumbs down, grade F for bad user experience keeping people away from what they want longer while displaying more ads and bad traffic poaching from genuine product sites. Google should remove this feature as it does no one any good and will deteriorate their relationship with real publishing and product sites over time. And if Google thinks they can play hardball and corner companies into accepting this, think again. I am sure there are some legal eagles out there that will be happy to bring this to court.

Top Gaining Web Sites Jan 08

From an email update I got today from comScore:

http://www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=2067  

I think this is interesting because some seasonal trends are in here and others are not. Check out the list:

comScore Top 10 Gaining Categories by Percentage Change in Unique Visitors (U.S.)

January 2008 vs. December 2007

Total U.S. – Home, Work and University Locations

Source: comScore Media Metrix

                                         Total Unique Visitors (000)

                                    Dec-07         Jan-08        % Change

Total Internet: Total Audience     183,619        184,239            0

Taxes                                7,729         23,336          202

Politics                             8,384         13,807           65

Career Services and Development     49,150         64,144           31

Real Estate                         32,747         41,991           28

Ground/Cruise                        8,909         11,303           27       

Car Rental                           4,065          5,130           26

Retail – Computer Software          26,756         33,548           25

Financial Information/Advice        32,109         39,792           24

Hotels/Resorts                      25,131         30,958           23

Online Travel Agents                34,581         42,530           23